List Words : Graihagh Jackson | 12 December

5 really wild courtships

From water dancing to wrestling, we reveal some of nature's most curious courtship rituals and where to witness them in the wild

1. Humpback whale

The enigmatic song of the humpback is commonly believed to be used to attract females. They hum, mouths clamped shut, while twisting and turning in the ocean currents, pectoral fins obediently flowing behind. Their operatic song can travel thousands of miles across entire oceans.

The humpback's performance can be observed in many tropical locations including Baja California, Mexico, and Hawaii between mid-December and March.

2. King bird of paradise

The king bird of paradise looks as though it's come from a child's colouring book – with violet feet, a chilli-red coat and an emerald-green ring on its white breast. Not only does the male have an elaborate appearance but also a very extravagant courtship ritual.

Super-thin tail wires with green disks on the end are lifted and swirled around (much like in cartoons when birds fly around a recently bruised head). The male accompanies this by puffing out its feathers into a neck ruff before splaying his wing feathers and swinging upside down like a pendulum.

There is probably no other courtship that is quite so full of vibrancy and ingenuity. Papua New Guinea’s king bird of paradise is considered vulnerable but can still be seen courting between September and April, deep in the rainforest.

3. Galápagos penguins

Unlike many species of penguin, the Galápagos penguin is found on the tropical islands of Fernandina and Isabela. The flightless bird, distinguished by its long bill and white-lined face, mate for life but continue to maintain their relationship with a complex set of rituals. These include preening, flipper patting, and bill duelling – where penguins face each other and vigorously shake their heads from side to side, clattering their bills together.


Galápagos penguin (Shutterstock)

Galápagos penguins make good use of the warm climate and abundance of food, therefore there is no specific breeding season. They mate year round, producing up to three clutches annually.

4. Regent bowerbird

Endemic to Australia, the regent bowerbird has a serious passion for interior design. The male forages the forest for an assortment of trinkets and baubles to impress and entice a mate. The male will plant a mossy lawn on which he will thatch twigs to create a bower. Inside the bower, he will carefully arrange his treasures of shiny leaves, berries and snail shells to best show off his collection.


Regent bowerbird, Australia (Shutterstock)

The bird is fairly unmissable, with a jet black coat and a golden yellow head-dress. Regent bowerbirds mate seasonally and inhabit the subtropical rainforests of coasts and hinterlands of New South Wales and Queensland.

5. Florida alligator

For such a terrifying reptile, the Florida alligator has some comparatively delicate mating habits. To attract a female, the males blow dainty bubbles and create ripples along the surface by bellowing at sub-audible levels. They also rub noses and raise their heads exposing their vulnerable necks as an expression of good intentions. However, in true beast style, they also wrestle, pushing and shoving the other underwater as a test of strength.


American alligator (Shutterstock)

Florida alligators are restricted to the brackish, swampy waters of the Everglades. Mating season is in July and should always be viewed from the safety of a boat.


Main image: Humpback whale (Shutterstock)